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New gowns coming to ELHS graduating class of 2016

Date: 4/30/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – The graduating class of 2016 at East Longmeadow High School (ELHS) will likely wear single color gowns during its commencement ceremony in order for ELHS and the district to comply with a state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.  

ELHS Principal Gina Flanagan told Reminder Publications in July 2012 the state passed Massachusetts General Law Chapter 76 Section 5 and the district begin reviewing the new law in August 2012 in order to align with it.

From 2013 to 2015, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) began providing districts with a series of memorandums about how the new gender identity law should be implemented in schools, she explained.

The DESE memorandum states, “some schools require students to wear gender-based garb for graduation or have gender-based dress codes for prom, special events, and daily attire. Schools should eliminate gendered policies and practices such as these.”

Flanagan said the ELHS Principal’s Advisory Committee; the ELHS Gay Straight Alliance faculty advisor, Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith, as well as student representatives have been working to implement the gown changes.

“We’re just trying to get everyone’s pulse on what would be the best way to go about transitioning,” she added. “All the groups felt like it was the right thing to do, particularly when you’re trying to adhere to the new law as well as the DESE advisory.”

Thus far, the groups are unsure about the final product, which would be one single color gown, Flanagan noted. The current gowns are red for boys and white for girls.

“We’re basically going to get some input from students [and] we’re going to get some input from the company that makes the gowns to see what they offer,” she added. “I think ideally it would be great if we could go to a gown that represents both of our colors, which are red and gray.”

ELHS would like to have sample gowns available for student to view, which they would be able to rate via a response survey, Flanagan noted.

She added, “I have only received one inquiry from a parent about the issue, but it was very cordial. I haven’t received a whole bunch of feedback from parents, although I’m sure it’s a big topic at the dinner table.”

More than two weeks ago, ELHS hosted “Honor Diversity” week, which engaging students with discussions about racial, religious, and gender identity tolerance, Flanagan said.  

“Yes, we want to support our students who are challenged with issues of gender identity, but we also want to make sure the kids understood that this is a law,” she added.

Flanagan said several principals in other local districts have contacted her asking about the process to adapt to the new gender identity law.

“I know that there’s at least four high schools right now in the area that are moving in the same direction,” she noted.

A student could challenge the current gown differences for male and female students, as discrimination, Flanagan said.

“Students who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, [or] gay; they are a protected class, so as such they have special consideration under the law,” she added. “We want to make sure we’re in compliance with that, but I think another piece to all of this is that we have several students at our school who are facing gender identity issues and we want to make sure that they feel supported and safe and feel good about coming to school and being a part of the ELHS community.”